According to new research from UC Davis Health System, the lower-limb paralysis associated with spina bifida may be treated prior to birth through a combination of unique stem cell therapy with surgery.
The animal-model study was headed by Diana Farmer, who is the chair of UC Davis Department of Surgery and the fetal surgeon who helped pioneer in utero spina bifida treatment. Spina bifida is a congenital birth defect in which the spinal cord does not close in a proper manner, which results to lifelong cognitive, musculoskeletal, and motor disabilities.
“Prenatal surgery revolutionized spina bifida treatment by improving brain development, but it didn’t benefit motor function as much as we hoped,” stated Farmer in a UC Davis Health System article.
“We now think that when it’s augmented with stem cells, fetal surgery could actually be a cure,” said Aijun Wang, who is Farmer’s chief collaborator and co-director of the UC Davis Surgical Bioengineering Laboratory.
As far as the research is concerned, lambs with myelomeningocele were given fetal surgery to return exposed tissue to the spinal canal. Known for their neuroprotective qualities, placenta-derived mesenchymal stromal cells (PMSCs) from humans were preserved using hydrogel and applied to the site of the injury.
Animals that received the stem cell treatment were able to walk without any distinct disability within a few hours after birth, while animals that didn’t receive the stem cell treatment were unable to stand on their own power.
Farmer was senior author of the landmark Management of Myelomeningocele Study (MOMS), which demonstrated that prenatal surgery could improve cognitive abilities for children born with spina bifida. Each year, 1,500 children are bone with spina bifida in the United States.
The study is titled, “Placental Mesenchymal Stromal Cells Rescue Ambulation in Ovine Myelomeningocele,” was funded by the UC Davis Department of Surgery.
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